LAHORE -  PIA Chief Executive Officer Bernd Hildenbrand has said that number of passengers travelling with PIA has increased from 4.5 to 5.5 million this year. He claimed that local and international market share of the airline has also increased up to 22 percent.

He expressed these views in an exclusive interview to The Nation on Wednesday at his office.

When pointed out that there was a general impression the PIA customer base has shrunk primarily because of deteriorating economic conditions in the Middle East - where many Pakistanis have lost jobs - and declining interest of UK nationals of Pakistani origin to visit their homeland, Hildenbrand said the number of passengers has rather increased by one million during the ongoing year.

“We are going to rationalise our routes and loss making routes will be suspended,” said the German national, who was appointed this year at the key post by the Pakistan government with the aim to rehabilitate the national airline.

With previous experience at Lufthansa, where he served for decades and was based in Malaysia, Hildenbrand is tasked with overseeing the modernisation of PIA through improving service, enlarging the carrier’s network and enhancing its market share and customer base.

The official said that PIA increased its market share on both domestic and international routes which shows the boost in confidence of the passengers in the airline.

The market share on international routes this year has witnessed 27 percent increase, which is three percent higher than the 24 percent increase made during the corresponding period of 2015.

The progress on home front is even more impressive. The market share of PIA on domestic routes during 2015 was 44 percent, which has now increased to 66 percent during current year.

“After rationalisation of the routes and other steps, we will hopefully get back 80 percent market share of the passengers,” the CEO pledged.

When pointed out that several officers had obtained jobs in PIA against fake educational degrees, Bernd Hildenbrand said, “We have fired certain officers on above said basis but their petitions are pending in courts and we are pursuing such cases.”

PIA management is targeting online sale of tickets, which enables passengers to get ticket at their door steps. He said the PIA is now available on two renowned travel portals – and Travelocity – and with this facility the airline will have greater reach to customers.

With such steps role of middlemen and travel agents would be minimised, cutting the expanse incurred on maintaining town offices as their size would be reduced.

About the excessive number of employees per aircraft, Hildenbrand said that management won’t terminate service of any employee and a strategy has been evolved to control this ratio in future.

He elaborated that in future the airline would make recruitment only against technical jobs and there would be no hiring against other cadres. In this way, with the retirement of about 400 employees every year, per aircraft employees ratio will be cut down to the desired level.

PIA CEO claimed there was a lot of improvement since his taking the charge. Regularity rate of flights the airline has achieved under him is 99 percent and punctuality rate is 85 percent, he said. Moreover, the standard of cleanliness and food quality has also improved.

Mr Hildenbrand was of the view that airlines across the world refurbish the planes, especially the cabins, after every seven to eight years but PIA planes were being operated as they are for last several years.

Now the PIA is on it, he said, and In Flight Entertainment system is also being installed in certain planes to meet international standards.